1 Cor. 9: 24-27
Paul is writing to the church at Corinth, and trying to exhort them to stay faithful to the gospel they have received from him and from others-he planted, Apollos watered, and God is trying to give the growth. Problem is, the Corinthians live in a town that is a major trade cross roads, and there are always new ideas coming in, from the west, and from the south, and from further east.
Some of those ideas are far far out, like the understandings about faith and practice that come into the area from India and the countries east of Israel, and those coming up from Africa with Arabic traders.
Some of those ideas are very close to what it is that Paul has taught, like those about what sort of practice followers of Christ should have, that he rails against in Galatians.
When Paul writes in his letter here that he is running a race, the race he is running is not a physical one, one that makes him move around the Mediterranean like a madman, never resting. It’s not that kind of race. When paul writes that he is running a race, it is a symbolic race. And he is not racing anyone but himself.
You see, I think he’s talking about the discipline of the racer, more than the act of the race. It takes training, stamina, and perseverance to train for a race, any race. Cyclists ride long hours, developing saddlesores and backaches as they ride up and down mountains. Runners develop blisters and sore joints. Swimmers deal with dry skin and brittle hair.
All athletes have to wrestle with the effects of their chosen sport on their body. Paul is saying that to be a fit follower of Christ, we must find the same self-discipline. He says in verse 25 that everyone who competes practices self discipline in everything. And while athletes compete for a crown of leaves, which was the prize for athletic accomplishment in the Original Olympics and is associated contests. (The Original Olympics was still an active event while Paul was writing, still being held in Olympia, Greece, which was in the same part of Greece as Corinth. So it was an apt image to use for Corinthians.)
Just as those Olympians needed to train for strength and endurance and quickness, so too do Paul’s Christians have to train for the trials they faced. And so do we have to train for the trials we face.
What are our trials? Living in the United States, living in Northeastern PA, we have it easy. Bibles are on sale for a dollar at Ollie’s, though the theology in their notes may be suspect; bibles are available as an app on our smartphones. WE have available to us Christian radio of various outlooks. We have 5-6 churches within about 5 miles of where we sit.
One can certainly claim that Christianity doesn’t need to work hard around here. But we are not called by God to sit comfortably by and let our faith grow weak in comfort. We are called to find new ways to show God’s love, and to train adequately for them. There are always new ministries to tackle, new ways to serve a community that is always changing, even if it isn’t as obvious in a rural area like this as it would be in a city. It’s still constantly moving, changing, and new needs are still being uncovered. We are not called to demonstrate the faith of our fathers and mothers. The pictures on the wall are there to remind us not of our failure of numbers, but of our heritage of strength of faith, and it is our duty to demonstrate our own strength of faith, by serving the people in our midst, no matter the circumstances or our cultural perspectives, and we are certainly called to overcome our prejudices in order to serve God properly.
Lent is two weeks away. I would certainly encourage you to begin to think or pray about what special discipline you might cultivate during those six weeks. Lent is a time of repentance and renewal. It is a time that reminds us of our frailties, our clay feet. But it can also be a time of training and awakening. So pray over these next two weeks, and seek out what it is that god would have you do to help serve him better. This is the goal. If it means giving up something that distracts you from God, so be it. If it is something that empowers you to serve God better or in a new way, so be it. Don’t just give something up so that you can say you did it, but be able to say that what you are doing is a way to strengthen your faith, your resolve, and your ability to serve God.
Form a training plan, like novice runners do by using a program such as “Couch to 5 K”. And share it with me. Let me help you train, let me be your teammate, urging you on even as you urge me on.
Let us be competitors not against each other, not against God, but against anything that keeps us from serving God. Let us practice the self-discipline that Paul writes about, that God needs for us to have in this world.
Think, Pray, and let’s talk again next week.
What is the race that you will run?